As the state moves toward public/private partnerships, Malaekahana will serve as a test.
The cabins at Malaekahana state Recreation Area in La‘ie are in shambles. The roofs sag, the galvanized plumbing is crumbling and the siding is peeling away. Built in the 1930s, many of the buildings look like they’re one good storm away from demolition.
But changes are in store for Malaekahana. Two years ago, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) requested private bids to redevelop and manage the park. Now, DLNR is considering a plan that will gut the existing infrastructure at Malaekahana and replace it with new cabins, roads, sewage treatment and a high-tech, off-the-grid electrical system.
Malaekahana Partners, a company affiliated with the nonprofit that currently manages the Kahuku section of the park, will redevelop all of Malaekahana in exchange for a long-term lease. It’s part of DLNR’s strategy to create public/ private partnerships, and may serve as the model for similar programs at other state parks. And it’s making the neighbors nervous.
Much of their concern revolves around Craig Chapman, one of the principals of Malaekahana Partners. He’s managed the park for 12 years, but if you ask him about his status in the community, he’ll tell you, “I’m the haole hotel guy from Vegas.”
“I’m not a spiritual man,” says Chapman, “but if you listen to her [the park], she’ll tell you what she wants.” Chapman thinks she wants to be an eco-resort. He envisions a variety of community and educational activities at the park. And with the new cabins, he believes he can attract both kama‘aina and international visitors.
For the past 12 years, Chapman has operated under a year-to-year lease. Without a long-term lease, he has been unable to raise funds to fix the cabins and other problems in the park. So, when DLNR asked for proposals for Malaekahana, Chapman saw his opportunity. He assembled a group of local partners, persuaded a Canadian friend to finance the project and put together a proposal for DLNR. His was the only qualified bid.
Some have reacted skeptically. DeeDee Letts, a member of the Ko‘olauloa Neighborhood Board, points out that Chapman has been fined for improperly disposing of trash at the park. She’s also concerned that Chapman’s proposal promises more than he can deliver; in particular, that the capabilities of his sewage treatment system are overstated. Chapman counters that the fine was for a single incident many years ago, and that the type of sewage treatment system he’s installing is now required in state parks.
As a part of the approval process for his proposal, DLNR requested that Chapman make presentations to the neighborhood board and local community associations. Dan Quinn, DLNR’s administrator of state parks explains, “This is something we want to do properly. There’s a diversity of opinion about this project.” As for community concerns, DLNR has created a community board that will periodically review activities at the park. Even if DLNR approves his plan, Chapman still has to do an environmental impact statement, obtain permits and negotiate a lease.
Quinn remains confident that this is a good model for other state parks. He says DLNR will continue to expand these public/private partnerships, which range from Adopt-a-Park programs to master leases like the one proposed at Malaekahana. He suggests Hapuna on the Big Island may be a good candidate. But he’s quick to add, “We’d like to get through the process on this one first.”